The English Spirit

Det har gått en dryg vecka sedan den 15 juni. Det var det datumet år 1215 som den engelske kungen Johan utan land på Runnymedes äng tvingades skriva under Magna Carta, Det stora frihetsbrevet. Det var inget liberalt manifest, men sådde fröna till en utveckling där individens rättigheter alltmer togs på allvar och godtycklig maktutövning stävjades. Till de banbrytande formuleringarna hör:

”No free man shall be taken, imprisoned, disseised, outlawed, banished, or in any way destroyed, not will we proceed against or prosecute him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers and by the law of the land.”

England anses som liberalismens stamort. Andra länder har också tidigt uppvisat frihetliga drag, som Nederländerna och Schweiz, men England har utan tvekan betytt mest i detta avseende. Och utan den brittiska frihetliga traditionen hade inget USA kunnat födas, vars självständighetsförklaring den 4 juli 1776 (ironiskt nog gentemot Storbritannien) var en idépolitisk blomsterprakt sådd med brittiska frihetsfrön.

Min mamma fick 1952 en liten bok (som jag med godkännande lagt beslag på) som heter The English Spirit. Den utkom 1944 och är en samling av några av de radiotal som BBC under andra världskriget lät sända med skådespelaren Leslie Howard och författaren J.B. Priestley som redaktörer. Motivet var att mana till kamp mot Nazityskland och stärka britternas mod.

I den behandlas olika aspekter av brittisk kultur, allt från 1600-talsrebellen John Lilburne som ledde de frihetliga Levellers till engelsk landsbygd och bypubar. Men det är framförallt två tal som innehåller viktiga tankegångar, utan att jag håller med om allt vad som sades, men som illustrerar det frihetliga draget i det ”brittiska”. Det ska inte förväxlas med nationalism och britterna har sannerligen inte alltid levt upp till frihetliga ideal, varken nu eller historiskt. Men precis som USA är även andra anglosaxiska länder som Kanada, Australien och Nya Zeeland mer frihetligt präglade än många andra länder. Individualismen har bidragit till det engelska intresset för den personliga karaktärsdaningen.

Priestley (som annars var en sorts frihetlig socialist) citerar den tyske författaren Thomas Mann om hur engelsmännen har värnat friheten starkt till skillnad från tyskarna, och att detta kan sammanfattas som liberalism, och fortsätter själv:

”This Liberalism, as Thomas Mann rightly calls it, is probably England’s greatest contribution to world civilisation. It has been produced by an odd mixture of peoples living their own kind of life on a misty island just off the edge of the great European peninsula, a people who have been allowed by circumstances — and also by their own passion for liberty — to develop in their own way, to grow as a tree grows. It runs through all our political and social life, and not only here in this island but everywhere the English have gone. It runs through our glorious literature, in which there is blended an appreciation of the twists and turns of human character with a sense of the strange mystical background of this life, a blue haze like that we find so often over the English hills.”[…]

”I remember last year a clever foreigner, who knows us well, saying to me: ‘You know, the English are a good people. When you come to know them, you see there is something naturally, instinctively religious about them.’ By religious he did not mean that the English people are fonder of prayer, worship and ritual than other people, for clearly they are not. He meant that the ordinary English folk have an instinctive trust in the moral order of the universe, have a deep respect for all that is fundamentally personal to other people and are moved by goodwill. This goodwill runs like a golden thread, glinting with humour and poetry, through the fabric of our history. And I believe with all my heart that it will be a black tragic day for the world when that shining thread is seen no more; but I also believe that it will outlast our time.”

Utan att vara religiös, och det var som sagt inte poängen, kan jag sympatisera med detta som lika gärna kan vara en ickereligiös spiritualitet som har drag av det Ayn Rand kallade The benevolent universe premise.

Lord Elton beskriver utvecklingen av brittisk utbildning och karaktär:

”From the dawn of its history this has been a country in which men have preferred to do things for themselves. As far as possible, they wanted their rulers to leave them alone. Very early in their story they were boasting that ‘an Englishman’s home is his castle’, and long before other nations, they forced their rulers to abolish the odious right of imprisonment without trial. Within a man’s home — provided of course that he observed the law — he was to be left alone to manage his family life as he pleased.

A little later this instinct for independence and for individual enterprise — the instinct which gave us the Elizabethan sea-adventurers and the Pilgrim Fathers — began to look farther afield. Men felt that it was not sufficient to be left alone by the Government. They wanted to do its work for it. They began to organise themselves in voluntary associations to work for social and political reforms which in almost every other country at that time were thought of as being the business of the State, which is another way of saying that they were neglected altogether. Thus the slave trade, and a little later slavery, among the negroes in the British colonies were abolished, much earlier than elsewhere, after a long agitation conducted by a group of private citizens led by William Wilberforce. 

And to-day, although the power of the State has grown so fast and so far, everyone who knows Britain knows that it is still a network of voluntary associations, trade unions, friendly societies, religious and political organisations, literary, scientific and sports clubs innumerable, so that every aspect of the national life is enriched and vitalised by the free, voluntary enterprise of men and women who are not told what to do and how to think by uniformed officials, but of their own goodwill and on their own initiative contribute to the national life.”[…]

”Thus it is typical that the most original and the best-known British educational experiment has been the so-called public schools, which have owed less than any department of our education to the State, and which have been entirely developed by the initiative of individuals.”

William Waltons musik till filmen Spitfire/The First of the Few (1942) med Leslie Howard i huvudrollen.

Filmen Yanks (1979) utspelar sig också under andra världskriget, och skildrar kärleken mellan en amerikansk soldat och en engelsk flicka. Filmen är sådär, men musiken av Richard Rodney Bennett är bedårande vacker! Förutom kärleken får den också symbolisera de frihetliga banden mellan England och Amerika.

Rudyard Kiplings The Reeds of Runnymede (Magna Charta, June 15, 1215)

At Runnymede, at Runnymede,
What say the reeds at Runnymede?
The lissom reeds that give and take,
That bend so far, but never break,
They keep the sleepy Thames awake
With tales of John at Runnymede.

At Runnymede, at Runnymede,
Oh, hear the reeds at Runnymede:–
”You mustn’t sell, delay, deny,
A freeman’s right or liberty.
It makes the stubborn Englishry,
We saw ’em roused at Runnymede!

”When through our ranks the Barons came,
With little thought of praise or blame,
But resolute to pay a game,
They lumbered up to Runnymede;
And there they launched in solid time
The first attack on Right Divine–
The curt, uncompromising ‘Sign!’
That settled John at Runnymede.

”At Runnymede, at Runnymede,
Your rights were won at Runnymede!
No freeman shall be fined or bound,
Or dispossessed of freehold ground,
Except by lawful judgment found
And passed upon him by his peers.
Forget not, after all these years,
The Charter Signed at Runnymede.”

And still when Mob or Monarch lays
Too rude a hand on English ways,
The whisper wakes, the shudder plays,
Across the reeds at Runnymede.
And Thames, that knows the moods of kings,
And crowds and priests and suchlike things,
Rolls deep and dreadful as he brings
Their warning down from Runnymede!

2 responses to “The English Spirit

  1. Tack för en vacker och tankeväckande bloggpost!

    Vem var det som skrev boken The English Spirit som du citerar? Jag har hittat en bok från 1944 av A. L. Rowse som heter The English Spirit: Essays in History and Literature. Är det boken som du har? Eller är det The English Spirit, Ljus English Library vol. 11 (1943), med Priestley som redaktör?

  2. Tack!
    Det är utgåvan ”Ljus English Library, vol. 11”, med Priestley som redaktör.

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